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Making a Cultural Connection

by Jenn Flynn APPLE Schools | December 7 2017

I’ve worked with APPLE Schools for 10 years, and one of my many learnings is that practices shared in one school can take on a completely new form in another. Staff wellness is no exception, and the cool and creative ways that wellness champions find to build healthy work environments inspire me to share and learn from their stories.

I recently visited Chief Napeweaw Comprehensive School (CNCS) in Frog Lake to learn about the school and all the wellness initiatives that support the school community. Staff wellness immediately stood out as a priority, and I was fortunate to have Simone Olmstead, school health facilitator at CNCS, share with me how the school’s wellness committee wanted to pay tribute to the school’s amazing, dedicated staff and infuse a cultural connection to wellness.

Getting Started

Simone shared with me how each staff member was given a smudge kit (smudging is a ceremony for purifying or cleansing the soul) and a book called 100 Days of Cree. The smudge kit included a small wooden chest, containing all the elements of a traditional Cree First Nations smudge kit (rock, feather, shell, tobacco, sage, sweet grass and cedar). The Elders at CNCS provided some of the items for the box, and shared their knowledge with the staff. Elder Cecilie wrote out what each item is used for and why, and the wellness committee included it with each kit. Sherri O’Dell, school principal, presented staff members with the gift and thanked them for their work throughout the school year.

The Big Picture

This story inspired me to dig deeper and learn how the school is continuing to complete their wellness story and support staff wellness in meaningful ways that are unique to their community. Here are a few (of the many) highlights from Frog Lake:

  • The staff room has a mental wellness area that changes monthly. Monthly activities that are shared and available for all include things like easy games, knitting challenges or new resources that support personal wellness.
  • Staff have access to healthy treats to start the day off at no cost. For example, there might be a fruit bowl and fresh lemon water in the morning for staff members to enjoy.
  • The hallway leading to the staff room was turned into the “Humor Hub,” where jokes are posted daily to encourage smiling and laughter.
  • Each week, the wellness committee chooses two employees as “Special Employees of the Week.” Throughout the week, colleagues show their appreciation for these special employees, often through gestures of gratitude—such as thank-you cards, emails or small gifts—to recognize how they each contribute to the team.

“CNCS greatly appreciates all our hard-working staff and everything they do for the students and community. That’s why CNCS is making staff health and wellness a priority. Our staff give so much every day to the students and community of Frog Lake and we feel it’s important to take care of their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. Our staff feels like a big family and we want our family to be healthy in every area of their lives.”

– Simone Olmstead on the impact of staff wellness initiatives at CNCS

Hopefully CNCS’s amazing staff-wellness model can inspire you to infuse creative wellness initiatives that resonate with your unique work culture. Share your ideas in the comments below and let’s see if we can stir up new ways of promoting healthy staff rooms and workplaces!

Jenn Flynn

As the executive director of A Project Promoting healthy Living for Everyone—better known as APPLE Schools—Jenn is a superhero committed to seeing Alberta’s healthy school communities flourish. While her talents in the health and wellness arena are many, they are possibly eclipsed by her ability to balance spoons off her nose. Just don’t ask her to do anything amongst a flock of birds—otherwise known as Flynn-brand kryptonite.